Orlando area, United States
Orlando, USA: Vacations and travel info
When people think of Orlando the first things to pop into their minds are usually Disney, Mickey Mouse and an incredible vacation like no other. Orlando attracts millions of visitors each year, who come looking for excitement and the magic of Disney, however not many people know the history of this sun-blessed area of the USA.
Orlando is located in Central Florida and it is the main city of the area known as Greater Orlando. Behind Miami and Tampa, Orlando is the third largest metropolitan area and the city itself is the sixth most populated in Florida. Approximately fifty two million tourists visit the region each year and Orlando is only second to Las Vegas with regards to the number of hotel rooms on offer, so you shouldn't have any trouble finding a great place to stay. For conferences and conventions Orlando has the country's second largest square footage of meeting space, and while you are there why not have a round or two on one of the many immaculate golf courses, suitable for players of all levels.
A Brief History
People often don't know much about Orlando's history before the time of the many theme parks and, in fact, Orlando's settled history really doesn't go back more than about 150 years. In the early years Central Florida was a pretty wild place to be, with cattle raising being the predominant way to earn a living and the towns were pretty much like what you'd expect to see in a Spaghetti Western. Gun fights, gambling and cattle rustling were common during these lawless times and there were even 3 Indian wars fought here. It wasn't until 1880 that Orlando really began to evolve from a backwater cattle town into a real city.
Due to the railroad being built through Orlando, in 1880, the citrus industry, that Florida is still renowned for, began to flourish and thus started the areas boom times. The economic success of the area continued and in the 1920's Central Florida, in particular Orlando, began to develop a thriving tourist industry. In the 40's the area also developed a technology industry, in the main building missiles, which caused another rise in Orlando's population. Downtown was, by now, a bustling metropolis with a variety of industries and a vast skilled workforce, and then came Disney...
Walt Disney World
The Disney Corporation secretly bought up thousands of acres of land to the south east of Orlando, in an area called Lake Buena Vista, and began construction of the now world famous Walt Disney World. The first theme park, Magic Kingdom, was opened to the public on October 1st, 1971, and they have since added Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and finally Disney's Animal Kingdom, on April 22, 1998.
Along with the theme parks, the Disney Corporation continued to expand and open other attractions, including Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach, Disney's Wedding, Pavilion, Disney's BoardWalk, Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex and the Walt Disney World Speedway / Richard Petty Driving Experience. To complete the feel of a magical city Downtown Disney was created, comprising of the areas Marketplace, Pleasure Island (scheduled to re open again in 2010), and West Side. Downtown Disney is where many of the shopping and dining options are, along with the nightclubs and other entertainment activities.
As Walt Disney World has continued to evolve and become more like a self contained city, so more and more hotels and accommodations have been added, many with their own themes and styles, so you can even experience the magic of Disney in your guestroom. In total there are an incredible 32 resorts located on the property, of which 23 or actually owned by Disney. You can choose from budget accommodation all the way up to a luxury resort or a private villa.
Disney really still does have the monopoly share of Orlando's entertainment industry although Universal Studio's Orlando and Sea World Orlando also attract millions of tourists each year as well, with their own unique brands of entertainment and fun.
The Neighborhoods of Orlando
Orlando's different neighborhoods can give visitors an insight into the city's interesting past and also a glimpse into the future. From trendy areas to historic districts, it's all here just waiting to be explored.
Downtown Orlando is a constantly changing cityscape as more trendy restaurants and eclectic shops open, along with the many residential condos that are in various stages of development. Downtown is also the home of the ''Cultural Corridor'', which is a stretch of city blocks that features galleries, theaters, and performing arts venues. Lake Eola Park, spanning 43 acres, is the centerpiece of this area, where locals like to come to go jogging or just for a relaxing stroll. In the historic district, there are many beautiful Victorian buildings, dating back as far as 1880 and a great way to discover this historic area is on a self guided walking tour. After dark, however, Downtown Orlando transforms once again into a fashionable, exciting destination, full of nightclubs, theater shows, galleries and lively restaurants.
Just northeast of Downtown Orlando, the ViMi district (the area surrounding the Virginia and Mills intersection) is home to one of Florida's largest Vietnamese-American communities and, in recent years, it has also become popular with Orlando's gay community. If you are a fan of authentic Asian cuisine then this is the area for you, with hundreds of Vietnamese, Korean, Thai and Chinese restaurants lining the streets. The area is an eclectic mix of old and new buildings, along with a blend of Asian and American cultures, making for a very interesting place to explore.
Just on the outskirts of downtown, Thorton Park is one of Orlando's oldest neighborhoods that has become the new center of urbanization. The majority of old cottages and historic homes have now been beautifully renovated and stand proud alongside residential loft conversions and hip boutiques. Take a stroll around Lake Eola in the nearby park or enjoy your cappuccino al fresco and watch the world go by.
Baldwin Park and Celebration
Both these areas are a great insight into small town American life and wonderful neighborhoods to walk around and explore. They were designed from the ground up to foster a sense of community where residents can work, live and play in their own neighborhoods. There are miles of wide sidewalks to walk around and vibrant town centers full of interesting shops and coffeehouses. These communities also put on festivals throughout the year specifically designed to showcase there unique way of life, during the Christmas period is a particularly good time to visit and discover the spirit of family togetherness that these neighborhoods have to offer.
The walking tour in Eatonville is well worth doing for anyone interested in African-American history and although the majority of the original buildings have long since gone the tour still highlights the significant structures and areas. Interestingly Eatonville happens to be the oldest African-American municipality in the United States and probably the most famous former resident is Zora Neale, the Harlem Renaissance author. The Zora Neale Hurston National Museum, named after the writer, is also well worth visiting if you want to gain an insight into the areas rich cultural heritage.
Winter Park was once a retreat for wealthy northerners who came to enjoy the warm weather and escape the cold winters. Oftentimes they traveled down on the trains in the early twentieth century and from these early beginnings a neighborhood grew full of culture and natural beauty. A great way to see the neighborhood of Winter Park is on the Scenic Boat Tour which has been in operation for more than 50 years. You'll get to see lake-front mansions and the wonderful oak trees, which grow in the area, as you travel down the winding canals. There are also a good selection of museums to visit, beautiful gardens and parks filled with sculptures, ten blocks of galleries, shops and charming restaurants.
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